Maine DOE bridges transition to college, careers with $500,000 in grants

The funding will allow students to earn post-secondary credit while still in high school and develop technical and life skills for success in college, careers and civic life

AUGUSTA – As many as 225 students will earn approximately two semesters of college credit before they even graduate from high school, thanks to $500,000 from the Maine Department of Education to support the innovative Bridge Year Program. 

Governor Paul R. LePage and Education Commissioner Jim Rier announced today the 12 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Centers receiving State support to help cohorts of up to 15 high school juniors and seniors get a head start on their college coursework through the University of Maine.

Program participants will be able to earn up to 30 college credits, which would allow them to complete an Associate’s Degree within 12 months of high school graduation. Courses are taught by high school instructors who have been approved by the university and will cost students just $45 per credit hour – considerably less than UMaine’s going rate.

Students will concurrently receive a technical skills-based education through their CTE Center that will put them on a career track in occupations including those related to automotive, business, electrical, equipment maintenance and repair, health and public safety.

“I applaud these CTE Centers and their local high schools for partnering to provide new opportunities for students and for our state,” said Governor LePage. “It’s all about doing what is best for kids.  Bridge Year puts students first by saving them time and money while supporting the development of skills they’ll need to be competitive in the workforce.”

Supporters of the Bridge Year Program like Governor LePage and Commissioner Rier see it as a meaningful approach to removing barriers to higher education and reversing Maine’s persistent low degree attainment rates and skills gap.

The most recent data from Maine DOE shows that 64 percent of Maine students enroll in college following their high school graduation, with around a third of those needing remedial courses in reading or math.  Beyond the rigorous college coursework, the program includes summer academies on the UMaine college campus and financial planning sessions that additionally prepare students for college experiences.

By building confidence and lowering costs, Bridge Year makes an often daunting transition to post-secondary studies possible for participating students, says Education Commissioner Rier.

“This is the model for how the public K-12 system, higher education and the workforce could be aligned in a way that engages kids early on and truly ensures their college and career readiness,” said Rier. “We feel confident these students will go on to be very successful in college, because they already have proven they can be.”

This spring, a pilot class of the Bridge Year Program will graduate from Hermon High School. Early indications of success with that class led the LePage Administration to propose $2 million in the current biennium budget to bring opportunities to students statewide, but the Legislature reduced that request to $500,000 last summer.

The Governor has recently proposed $1 million to maintain the program in FY15. Until then, Maine DOE is working to stretch the existing $500,000 as far as possible. Those funds have been divided by the Department between programs that are ready to be operational with students this fall and will receive $60,000. Those that are in the planning phase and will start in the fall of 2015 will each receive $20,000.

Recipients of $60,000 grants include Region 2/Southern Aroostook County in partnership with Houlton High School, Ellsworth-Hancock County Technical Center in partnership with Ellsworth High School, Mid-Coast School of Technology in partnership with Medomak Valley High School, Mid-Maine Technical Center in partnership with Waterville High School and Bangor-United Technologies, which will get a total of $120,000 to fund four cohorts of students in partnership with Bangor and Hermon high schools and two first-year cohorts with Brewer High School and Hampden Academy.

Recipients of $20,000 grants include Sanford Regional Technical Center in partnership with Sanford High School, Lewiston Regional Technical Center in partnership with Edward Little High School, Tri-County Technical Center in partnership with Nokomis Regional High, Somerset Career and Technical Center in partnership with Skowhegan High School, Foster Technology Center in partnership with Mt. Blue High School, Region 3/Northern Penobscot Tech in partnership with Schenck High School and Portland Arts and Technology High School in partnership with Portland High School.

The funds provided by Maine DOE to the 12 CTE Centers will support professional development for staff, summer academies for students, stipends for college professors and contracted services with Bridge Year Educational Services, the nonprofit that will be managing the programs at all locations.

For more information about Career and Technical Education in Maine, visit www.maine.gov/doe/cte.

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